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We were leaving for the vacation today—or rather embarking on our journey across the United States to hike upon the breath seizing and fantastical slopes of the Grand Canyon. I was excited, naturally. I had only seen pictures of the unearthly landmark and the opportunity to behold the sight first hand thrilled me. It was a new land, a new state, a new people, a new—everything! I refused to let the commitments and plans I had made at home hold me back from the trip. I helped the group load the car and we set out.
I was in the driver’s seat. My Dad insisted that the long distance driving would be excellent practice. He occupied the front seat keeping a close eye on my driving technique and focus. My younger brother Eneric sat in the seat directly behind me and to my dismay, immediately substituted my chair for a set of drums. Beside him sat my friend Feary Nerbous.
Feary sat silently staring out the window with her hands fidgeting incessantly in her lap. She was an innately shy girl, but traveling made her an absolute wreck. I had politely invited her out of my obligation as a friend, but I had never expected her to accept! Perhaps her decision to come along could be attributed to my friend Egor’s decision to come along also. Egor’s and Feary’s friendship had been nurtured since childhood. Egor, the more outgoing, personable girl, pushed Feary out of her protective shell and forced her to socially interact. Upon this foundation, they had built an efficient and reliable friendship. They were inseparable.
Oh—and along with these three passengers, my Dad had also invited a new girl in the neighborhood for the benefit of Eneric (although Eneric was far from interested in playing with girls at his age). Her name was Neugeanie. She was an eccentric, strange girl with a blasting head of red hair. When I looked into my rear view mirror, her bright flash of red inhibited my line of vision. This annoyed me.
After about twenty minutes of driving the back roads, we hit the highway and Eneric’s antics of punching my seat grew intolerable.
“Dad!” I complained, “Could you please tell Eneric to stop hitting my seat!”
My Father turned to give Eneric a scolding look and the beating stopped allowing my head to breath. As we drove along, the soothing hum of the road lulled me and I daydreamed of the Grand Canyon. In my head, I could see the immensity of the landscape and almost feel the wind running against my face. The sky must be so vast and blue out there, I thought. There must be so much space and room to breathe that you can think about anything, I dreamed. I bet I could do anything, I thought as I sighed.
“Hey!” my Dad suddenly yelled.
Startled, I jumped and overcorrected the wheel. We swerved and the wheels squealed against the hot pavement. The seconds were sheer terror and panic, but I managed to straighten the wheel and avoid the cars in the lanes next door. Despite several honks from irritated drivers, we escaped the situation unscathed.
“Watch the road!” my Dad castigated me, “You cannot lose focus when you are driving! You know better than that. Driving is serious business. Okay?”
I nodded, my chest still in knots.
From the back, I heard Feary mumble, “I knew I didn’t like traveling. See, Egor? This is why I don’t like traveling. There’s just too many risks out here in cars and planes and all that stuff. Something always goes wrong!”
Egor responded back optimistically, “Feary, you’re so dull! Have a little adventure in your life! All these little mishaps turn into memories and stories!”
Feary mumbled a response, but I could not hear and Egor only nodded. Feary turned to stare anxiously out the window again and Egor’s face lit back up into her perpetual, cheery smile. Eneric had long returned to pounding on my seat and Neugeanie sat mysteriously silent in the far back.
After only a few more miles down the road, I again began to daydream. This time, however, I listed all the scheduled events I would be missing at home during the trip. They were not mandatory events by any means, but I still second guessed my impulsive decision to take this trip. Perhaps, I should have stayed home. But I did want to see the unbelievable Grand Canyon. The opportunity was simply unable to be overlooked! I had to go on this trip. Everyone had to see the landmark at least once in their lives and this was my time. I owed the trip to myself. Furthermore, Egor adored any sort of travel. To pass up this trip would be detrimental to our friendship!
Once again, my Dad’s voice punctured through my daydream, “Watch out!”
In the middle of the road was a large, gray cinder block. With desperation I yanked the wheel to dodge the obstacle. The red car beside me swerved away from my frantic turn and skidded into the adjoining lane. I straightened out the wheel once I cleared the unexpected debris. Once more, an array of honks resounded on the highway.
Breathing shallowly and in exasperated gasps, I headed for the next exit.
“What are you doing? We can’t stop here. Get back on the road. Come on. You’re fine. We have to keep driving!” my Dad ordered.
“Dad! Can’t you just drive for a little bit? Not long--,” I sucked in a frazzled breath, “I just need a break. That’s almost wreck number two! I think that’s enough near death experience for one day!”
“Stuff like this happens. You have to keep going. Now get back on the road. We have a schedule to keep.”
I could hear Egor in the back, “Yah, we don’t want to be late. It’s all right. This won’t happen again.”
And Feary, “I hate traveling. I hate it…”
Eneric continued hitting my seat and Neugeanie’s unnerving red hair remained permanently in the corner of my eye. I took a deep breath and entered back onto the highway. I could do this.
Everyone was counting on me. I saw Egor smile.
Up ahead on the road I could see a tunnel approaching. I loved tunnels. On past family vacations we would always have a contest to see who could hold their breath the longest within the tunnel.
In an effort to calm my nerves by reliving fond memories, I cried out, “Everyone hold your breath!”
And then the tunnel sucked us in. The inside of the tunnel was unusually ill lit and the darkness groped around me with tangible fingers. Quickly, I switched on my lights just in time to discover I was headed straight towards a roped off construction area. For the third time, I swerved. I successfully dodged the site, but by this third happening my body had succumbed to a panic attack. My palms became sweaty, but tingled with a sharp chill and my head began to pound and pound. Then, the tunnel began to rumble and echo with the clangs of hammers and heavy drills. The noise was deafening and sickening. In addition, the lights began to flash on and off…on and off…on and off…And the road turned to wood. Not literally, I soon realized, but wooden planks covered the pavement for construction. The uneven surface cracked under the tires and swayed the car back and forth. I could feel my heart pounding, pulsing in my chest, my ears, my neck. And then my head began to feel heavy and achy and all I wanted was out. But the lights kept flashing, the bangs of the drills reached unbearable volumes and the uneven planks threatened to push the car into somersaults.
All the while my Dad was a constant whisper in my ear, “This is good experience. Sometimes you go through construction like this. You just have to get through it. Just keep driving. Just keep going…”
Egor was surprisingly silent or I could not hear her voice over the roar of the confusion.
Feary’s wails of fright were easily perceived, however. Her hysterics echoed in my head and added to the stress. The build up was reaching a climax intensity.
My Dad continued to talk to me, “Eyes on the road. Come on. Steady the wheel. This is great practice! Keep it steady!”
My chest was closing in. I could not breathe. I just wanted out. The lights flashed again. Suddenly, I felt as if I could not see. I glanced in the background to see if a car was trailing me, but the rear view mirror was clouded with red hair. All I could see was red, red, red. Red was everywhere…all around me. The lights turned red and the planks were molten, melting, unsteady red rocks.
“Dad! Dad!” I cried, “Dad, just shut up! Everyone! Everything just stop! Shut up! Shut up!”
But he kept talking, “Don’t stop! Don’t stop. Just keep going! Steady! Keep going! Move! Move!”
And Eneric’s energy had not subsided. His hands thumped, pounded and vibrated on my chair. My vision turned fuzzy as my seat shook and the car shook and the lights flashed and the tools clanged and Feary wailed and everything was red because of Neugeanie’s stupid hair.
“STOP!” I was screaming, now, “Stop it! Do you hear me? Shut up! Shut up!”
“Hold it steady…”Screamy wails. Flashing lights. Where was Egor? RED, red, red…Dark and then light. CLANG! CLANG!...echoing BOOM! Red.
And then…my head exploded, erupted like a massive volcano and lava poured from my eyes in hot, unceasing tears. I collapsed on the floor and sobbed deep, deep, good, wonderful sobs of emotion pouring out from my overly burdened soul. Hugging the floor with all of my love, I cried on the internal carpets of the car and clutched the soft fabric with a desperate, overwhelming relief. And covering my face with my hands, I cried and soaked my hands with salty, warm, lovely tears. I soaked the carpet and I flooded the car until the car exploded too and I was washed out onto the streets with all of my friends. The pavement was warm and the gentle water rushed underneath us and bathed us sweetly. And there we lay wet, cleansed, and everyone smiling as our freshly sprinkled bodies sparkled in the reviving sun.